Everyone pitches in, moving firewood, fetching water from the lake and helping to cook and prepare meals, Hoy said.
There are typically two field seasons on the island — winter and the spring/summer season. When Hoy is not on the island, she is analyzing data that was collected during the field season, writing papers and sometimes teaching classes.
While the study at Isle Royale has continued for more than 60 years, researchers are still learning all kinds of new things about wolves. The population dwindled to just two wolves before new wolves were translocated to the island in an effort to control the moose population there. Hoy was able to observe some fascinating behavior from some of those new wolves this year.
“Something that really surprised me this last winter was the behavior of a pair of wolves that kept swimming to and from small islands at the southwest end of the park,” she said. “We knew from the GPS collar data (provided by the National Park Service) that one of the newly introduced female wolves (originally from Michipicoten Island) had a habit of swimming to the smaller islands during the summer time. But in January/February, she started travelling with a black male wolf translocated from Wawa, Ontario.
“On six occasions during the seven-week winter field season, this pair swam to smaller islands off Isle Royale’s southwestern shore. It was incredible. It makes me shudder just to think about how it would feel to plunge my feet into the icy cold waters of lake superior in February. On one survey flight we would locate the pair as being at a point near Rainbow Cove or the North Gap, then the next day we would find them resting at the top of a south facing slope, on Washington island or St. John’s island. They would typically be bedded down in the sunshine in a small clearing or chewing on the leg bones of an old moose kill. We think that pair kept swimming to those little islands so that they could stay clear of the trio of wolves which had been aggressively defending their territory at the west end of the island.”
Among the big findings this winter was evidence of wolves breeding on Isle Royale for the first time since 2014.
“This year was very exciting,” she said. “This past winter it was a real honor and delight to see some new alliances form between the newly introduced wolves, and get to observe some of their bonding behaviour. But still the highlight for me was discovering that the first pup had been born on the island (in over five years) and getting to see it interact with its mother (who was formally the alpha female on Michipicoten island before she was relocated).”
Isle Royale has also taught Hoy a lot about how to really see things in nature. Typically, she said she’d go out hiking and chart mile after mile to see as much of the landscape as possible. At Isle Royale, it’s different.
“Isle Royale has taught me that if you really want close encounters with wildlife, the best way is to just sit very quietly and still and you’ll be surprised at all the amazing things that go on while you’re just sitting and watching,” she said. “It’s a real privilege to be on the island in the wintertime and to get a glimpse into the lives of these wolves as they settle into their new home.”
The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.